There is new hope that states with adult-use and medical marijuana laws on the books and states considering legalization or decriminalization will finally be able to stop worrying about the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) commandeering their police officers and sheriff’s deputies to enforce federal marijuana prohibition. A bipartisan group of United States’ Senators and Representatives introduced the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Entrusting States (STATES) Act on Thursday. It’s intent is to allow states to determine what marijuana laws are right for them.

Diff’rent Strokes for Diff’rent Folks

Republican Cory Gardner of Colorado and Democrat Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts introduced the bill in the Senate. Republican David Joyce of Ohio and Democrat Earl Blumenauer of Oregon are co-sponsors of the bill they introduced in the House of Representatives. Upon introduction of the bill, its creators emphasized that their legislation would not make marijuana legal throughout the country – as if the name of the bill and its acronym weren’t revealing enough.

The bill’s bipartisan group of writers wants everyone to know the STATES Act is a states’ rights bill and not a legalize marijuana bill for obvious reasons – the biggest being that legislation ending federal marijuana prohibition would never pass Congress let alone get the support of Donald Trump, who said he’ll “probably” back the bill. But any legislation even misrepresented as a marijuana legalization bill would do lasting damage to the cannabis movement that has seen economies, government budgets, infrastructure and education improve while crime, opioid overdoses, suicides and healthcare costs decrease in states with adult-use or medical marijuana laws.

STATES Act’s States’ Rights Focus Leaves Conservatives Little Wiggle Room

With the STATES Act, it will be nigh impossible for Conservatives to justify their opposition of the bill by calling it an endorsement of drug use. Politicians representing states that border states with adult-use or medical marijuana laws could claim the bill would only stretch their law enforcement and judicial budgets even thinner, but they couldn’t misrepresent the legislation to their constituents as an attempt to legalize marijuana. They could even request additional federal funding to address the increased law enforcement and judicial workload they anticipate, but they couldn’t vote “no” with the excuse of “I’m not about to legalize marijuana.” I mean, they could say that in their defense, but not without subjecting themselves to ridicule.

STATES Act’s States’ Rights Focus Appeals to Public Majority

Another reason the bipartisan crafters of the STATES Act are making cannabis a states’ rights issue is because it appeals to a majority of the public. A Gallup poll conducted in June 2016 found that 55 percent of Americans prefer government power to be concentrated at the state level instead of the federal level, and Republicans are are four times as likely to support state power.

Giving more power to the states appeals to Republicans, Libertarians and even some Democrats. Hell, I’m a Socialist, and I support small government because I know Socialism, like all forms of governing, works most effectively and efficiently in people’s behalf when the number of people it governs is small and when that population is concentrated in a governable geographic area. Why? The answer was provided by the late Alan Thicke back in 1978: “Now, the world don't move to the beat of just one drum. What might be right for you, may not be right for some.”

Those are, of course, the opening lyrics to the “Diff’rent Strokes” theme song, and a more true statement could not be uttered let alone sung. The United States is a vast country that spans the spectrum of both geography and demography, which makes it difficult to govern. Americans experience such differing circumstances that what might be right for you, may not be right for some. Hell, in my home state of Montana you can drive eight hours and never leave the state, but the geography and the people change immensely. What works in the West probably won’t work in the East and vice versa. Marijuana legalization might be right for Californians, but it may not be right for Nebraskans. The STATES Act would allow states to choose what cannabis laws work best for their residents.

STATES Act Not the First, Hopefully the Last of its Kind

This isn’t the first time a bipartisan bill has been introduced to strengthen states’ rights to adopt and enforce marijuana laws as they see fit. I was on Capitol Hill as a student lobbyist for Students for Sensible Drug Policy five years ago when H.R. 1523, the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2013, was before the 113th Congress. It too sought to allow states to decide the legality of adult-use and medical marijuana by altering the Controlled Substances Act to exclude persons acting in compliance with state marijuana laws.

We felt way back then that this would be our path to ending federal marijuana prohibition, and while we weren’t going to get federal legalization, it was a compromise we were willing to make to appeal to Conservatives and get the legislation passed. I left the reception held after our lobby day filled with hope after hearing Democratic Congressman from Colorado Jared Polis and famed Conservative Grover Norquist agreeing that cannabis was an issue for states to decide by and for their respective residents.

According to Congress.gov, that bill is still before Congress, lost and forgotten by the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations since April 30, 2013. It has 28 cosponsors in the House, six of which are Republicans. The House version of the STATES Act already has 14 cosponsors in the House plus the two Representatives who assisted in drafting the bill. Eight are Republicans, so the new bipartisan bill is already appealing to more Conservatives than H.R. 1523.

STATES Act Lets States Decide Cannabis Laws Right for Them

This bipartisan group has high hopes for the STATES Act given what’s occurred since H.R. 1523 was introduced. The STATES Act does what H.R. 1523 would have. It amends the Controlled Substances Act to exclude persons acting in compliance with state and tribal marijuana laws. But it doesn’t eliminate all federal oversight. Distribution of cannabis at transportation facilities and rest stops would remain federally illegal and enforced. The STATES Act does a lot more than allow states to determine their own marijuana laws, though. It also addresses some of the issues that have resulted from states legalizing adult-use or medical marijuana, which should appeal to both sides of the aisle.

STATES Act Legalizes Hemp

Back in 2011, I wrote that cannabis would be America’s best cash crop ever – even bigger than tobacco. Marijuana consumption has already far surpassed my expectations upon its legalization for adult- and medical-use, but industrial hemp is what’s going to make cannabis America’s best cash crop ever. It grows like a weed if you’ll forgive the pun, and can be used for virtually anything. It’s a stronger fiber than cotton and can be used to make textiles that last longer so our clothes don’t fall apart in the wash. It will make stronger rope, hopefully saving mountain and rock climbers’ lives, and cowboys, cowgirls and sailors headaches. Hemp seeds are also rich in fatty acids, protein, fiber and other important nutrients. Hemp can even be used as fuel, which ExxonMobil will no doubt exploit given its investment into biofuels. All that algae research ended up being nothing more than a good PR campaign because hemp is a much less intensive biofuel to produce than algae. You can even build a house out of something called hempcrete, and cannabis can also relieve your pain without getting you high. That’s right, cannabidiol, better known as CBD, has been proven to have pain-relieving, anti-inflammatory, and anti-anxiety properties without the psychoactive effects of THC. So cannabis can clothe you, feed you, shelter you, transport you and your things, relieve your pain, and even save your life while creating jobs and improving our environment by oxygenating the air. Along with solar and wind energy industries, industrial hemp will be one of the biggest contributors to the health of America’s economy and environment for years to come.

STATES Act Makes Marijuana Transactions Federally Legal, Finally

The STATES Act would make cannabis transactions legal, allowing cannabis providers to take methods of payment besides cash and store that money in a bank. Cannabis providers have had a justifiable fear of depositing their profits in federal banks subject to federal law. The federal government could seize those assets like they seize vehicles used to traffic drugs. No criminal charges need to be brought against the cannabis providers for them to lose their money either, as asset forfeiture is a civil action, not criminal.

Since its legalization in Colorado, many cannabis providers have hired motorcycle couriers to pickup and deliver literal saddlebags of money to be deposited in a safe somewhere. One California dispensary owner reportedly delivers $40,000 in cash in the trunk of his car every month simply to pay his taxes. The STATES Act would make those trips a thing of the past and likely result in fewer instances of theft.

So is 2018 finally the year federal marijuana prohibition ends? Some people think so, but ultra-Conservatives could get in the way, just as they did on a cannabis bill for veterans just last week. The STATES Act probably won’t have many supporters from the religious right, which will be its biggest obstacle to overcome. But now more than ever before, Senators and Representatives on both sides of the aisle are going to be more willing to consider the end of federal marijuana prohibition given what we’ve all learned from the experimentation spearheaded by states. Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia could all adopt medical marijuana laws this year, and if that doesn’t surprise you consider where we were five years ago, when Maryland relaxing criminal penalties for seriously ill people using marijuana was considered a win for cannabis advocates.

Your Senators and Representatives are not experts on cannabis and need you to inform them on the issue, so here’s a guide on how to do so most effectively. You’ll want to appeal to the humanity in them. Politicians are not cold robots. When they hear a story about someone using cannabis to treat their chronic back pain that otherwise would keep them bedridden, they can probably relate to that. They especially want to know if cannabis helped you kick your opioid addiction. They have friends and family struggling with the same problems with which the rest of us struggle, so speak or write from the heart. The facts will only bore them to the point they tune you out.


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Minnesota governor Mark Dayton is expected to appoint lieutenant governor Tina Smith to replace United States Senator Al Franken, who resigned amid sexual harassment allegations. But Smith is now contemplating running for reelection in 2018, which has Democrats applying pressure on Dayton to appoint more than just a caretaker to the Senate seat.

Democrats have a stable of good horses to win the 2018 race for Franken’s vacated seat, but U.S. House Representative from Minnesota’s fifth district, Keith Ellison, is the thoroughbred. Ellison has served as the fifth district’s House Representative since 2007, so he’s put in the time to earn a promotion to the Senate. Furthermore, he’d vacate another U.S. Congressional seat Democrats could easily win back in 2018 given its Minneapolis voting base. But who will replace Ellison if he indeed runs for the U.S. Senate in 2018?

Here are the candidates most likely to run for Minnesota’s fifth district if Ellison does run for Franken’s Senate seat.

Lori Swanson, Minnesota Attorney General

Rumor is Swanson wants to run for governor, and her office didn’t return our call as of this writing, but she’d probably be a shoe-in for the U.S. House. For an attorney general, Swanson has pretty good name recognition throughout the state and even the nation. She was named one of America’s top ten lawyers by Lawyers USA in 2009, and the very next year, she was named Public Official of the Year by the Minnesota Nurses Association, whose support would be essential for a Democratic victory in Minnesota’s Fifth U.S. House District.

Ginger Jentzen, Socialist Alternative Party

Jentzen was the big story out of Minnesota during the 2017 municipal elections despite losing a bid for Minneapolis’s City Council. She won the popular vote in seven of 12 precincts, but lost the seat to ranked-choice voting. She didn’t get enough second- or third-choice votes to get a majority. That wouldn’t be the case in a race for Minnesota’s fifth district for the U.S. House, where a win would make her the first Socialist in the House of Representatives since Victor Berger of neighboring Wisconsin in 1910 (Bernie Sanders served in the House as an Independent, and retains that affiliation in the Senate). Jentzen had no comment when asked if she’d be interested in running for the U.S. House seat at a Socialist Alternative event on Saturday night.

Raymond Dehn, Democratic Farmer Labor

Dehn was a close second to Jacob Frey in the Minneapolis mayoral race in 2017, garnering 42.8 percent of the vote, but was fourth in first-choice votes. Tom Hoch and incumbent Betsy Hodges received more first-choice votes than Dehn, but Hoch gave money to Republicans, and Hodges isn’t likely to perform well given her third-place finish as incumbent mayor of Minneapolis.

Nekima Levy-Pounds, Democratic Farmer Labor

Pounds was fifth in first-choice votes for Minneapolis mayor, but would certainly receive the endorsement of Ellison given her work as President of the Minnesota NAACP. Ellison was the first black Representative elected out of Minnesota, and was the first ever Muslim Congressman elected in the United States.

If Smith intends to run for reelection, however, Franken’s vacant Senate seat would be ripe for Republican picking. Franken barely edged Republican Norm Coleman back in 2008, and Hillary Clinton won the state in 2016 by just 1.5 percentage points in 2016.

Update: Pounds returned a message stating she has no interest in running for the District 5 U.S. House seat, but offered two candidates who might.

Jamal Abdulahi, Democratic Farmer Labor

Abdulahi announced his candidacy for Minnesota's Fifth Congressional District when Ellison was being considered as chair of the Democratic National Committee in 2016. He is a Somali American who grew up in Minnesota and would be the first Somali American in Congress. He'd be continuing a trend in Minnesota, which has the largest Somali American population in the country by far. Minnesotans elected the first Somali American Muslim woman to the state legislature last year.

 

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Update: On Monday, Republican Representative of Michigan’s 11th District, Dave Trott, announced he will not pursue reelection in 2018, becoming the third Republican House member to retire in the last week and fourth overall. Michigan’s 11th went to Donald Trump by 4.5 points in 2016, but 270ToWin is calling it a tossup in 2018.


 

There are now three open House seats up for grabs in districts favorable for Democrats after two, seven-term Republican Representatives announced their retirements in back-to-back days this week.

Charlie Dent, the moderate Republican Representative of Pennsylvania’s 15th District since 2005, announced that he would not seek an eighth term in the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday, saying in an interview with the Washington Post that it’s become too difficult to work with members of his own party.

“Accomplishing the most basic fundamental tasks of governance is becoming far too difficult. It shouldn’t be, but that’s reality,” he said.

Dent has been one of the most outspoken Republicans when it comes to Donald Trump. He told Trump to drop out of the 2016 Presidential Election after the “grab them by the pussy” video surfaced. He didn’t vote for Trump, casting a vote for independent Evan McMullin instead. And he’s spoken out against Trump’s travel ban, his firing of James Comey and Trump’s comments after white supremacists rallied in Charlottesville, killing a counter-protesting, white woman. Two Virginia State Troopers also died in a helicopter crash.

Dent is co-chairman of the Tuesday Group, a dwindling group of a few dozen moderate Republicans that focuses on governing through sensible legislation rather than upholding conservative ideals. But given the growth of Far Right Conservatives via the Tea Party movement and culminating in the House Freedom Caucus, moderate Republicans are a retiring breed.

On Wednesday, moderate Republican Representative of Washington’s 8th District, Dave Reichert, announced he won’t pursue an eighth term either. Like Dent, Reichert has been critical of Trump, and like Dent’s, Reichert’s House district could flip to the Democrats. In fact, it’s more likely to flip than Dent’s 15th District.

Democrats are expected to pick up a seat in Florida, too, as Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was the first Republican Representative to announce her retirement back in April after 35 years in office. The first Cuban-American elected to Congress leaves a very favorable seat for Democrats in the recently redrawn 27th District of Florida. Hillary Clinton carried the district by 20 points over Donald Trump, and 270ToWin has predicted a win for the Democrats.

Roll Call projects both Florida’s 27th and Washington’s 8th districts will turn over to Democrats. But House Republicans are likely to lose more than just two seats due to retiring Republicans. History shows midterm elections aren’t friendly to the party of the President, and results are influenced by the President’s approval rating. Trump’s 36 percent approval rating is the worst of any President this far into his first term.

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At some point Congressional Democrats have to start wondering if things could have turned out any better for them had they won the 2016 Presidential Election. I’ve already said once that it couldn’t be worse for Republicans, and except for the hundreds of judges Donald Trump is appointing all over the country, things are really going Democrats’ way. Congressional Democrats will reap the benefits of Trump’s record low approval rating and compulsive terrorizing of his own party members come the 2018 midterm elections.

When Trump said he would “drain the swamp,” I didn’t think he was talking about members of his own party. If that was his goal, it’s the only thing he’s done really well. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s approval rating in Kentucky is 18 percent. He won’t be back, but a Democrat won’t take his seat either. That’s okay as long as Democrats preserve their seats most likely to switch parties (there are eight) and pick up at least three seats. The seats most likely to be within reach are in Nevada, Arizona or Texas.

The Democrats are going to gain seats in the House. Congressional minorities pick up seats when their opposition occupies the White House. 270ToWin has 14 seats as tossups, and every tossup Democrats win after the first will be a House seat gained.

While Democrats winning the 24 seats to take a House majority is a longshot, FiveThirtyEight says House Democrats have a “historically strong position.” Despite Republicans holding the incumbency advantage by holding more House seats, FiveThirtyEight pits Democrats’ chance at taking back the House majority at 50/50.

The prediction is based on the House generic ballot, where voters are asked for which party they’d vote in a House election. Democrats lead that generic ballot by seven percentage points. In 2008, when they led the generic ballot by nine points, Democrats picked up 23 House seats. When they led by 11.5 points in 2006, Democrats picked up 30 House seats.

So House Democrats have to hope Trump’s approval rating keeps decreasing, which would result in an increased margin on the generic ballot and more Democratic Representatives elected in 2018. And it’s not crazy to think Trump’s approval rating could reach the record low of 22 percent set by Harry Truman before the 2018 midterm elections.

Only George W. Bush managed to raise his net approval rating going into his first midterm election, and it took 9/11 for that to happen. The other eight newly elected Presidents of the Presidential approval rating era lost at least 17 points before their first midterm elections. So barring a terrorist attack unifying the country behind a war, Trump’s approval rating will likely continue it’s downward trend.

Trump has been shedding .038 percentage points per day since starting his Presidency with a record low 45 percent approval rating. As of this writing, there are 437 days until the 2018 midterm elections. At Trump’s current rate, his approval rating would be at least 16 points lower than his current 37 percent approval rating, setting a new record low at 21 percent.

Even with his current approval rating, Trump would hold the record low for a net approval rating of nearly -20 percent (37.1 approval rating minus 56.9 disapproval rating). The three Presidents who went into their first midterm elections with disapproval ratings at least as high as their approval ratings ended up losing the most House seats, but none of them even touch the travesty that is Trump’s net approval rating.

Barack Obama’s House Democrats lost 63 seats when his net approval rating was just -2 percent. Bill Clinton’s House Democrats lost 54 seats when Bill Clinton’s net approval rating was zero. Ronald Reagan’s House Republicans lost 27 seats when his net approval rating was -4 percent.

So while there isn’t a direct correlation between negative net approval ratings of the President and the number of House seats lost, negative net approval ratings certainly result in House seats lost. And with 60 to 80 Republican-held House seats that could be competitive in 2018, and 209 Democratic challengers for House seats raising at least $5,000 by June 30 this year compared to the 28 Republicans who did so, Democrats are in position to surprise us like Trump did in 2016. The only thing that might stop them, according to history, is a terrorist attack.

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